Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A Craic-ing Good Time

Saturday 6 November
A lovely sunshine and showers morning. The view from the house is stunning. To Lidl to buy provisions for weekend. At the till the cashier confiscates all alcohol. None to be sold before 10.30 or 12 noon on Sundays and St Patrick’s Day. Drive up Connor Pass to see the view on a clear day – breathtaking. Then back down to Supervalu for papers and now legal alcohol.

Ma is filled with the urge to visit the hairy jumper shop again to find one for herself. She is assisted by a prim and rather fierce-looking woman of about her age. They bond over widowhood. ‘Why are Irish people so happy?’ Ma says, a bit in love with all things Irish. ‘Well, mainly, it’s the drugs,’ says the assistant without blinking. ‘But what about the luck of the Irish?’ presses Ma. ‘Well, I don’t know about that,’ says the assistant. ‘This week I’ve already blowed up me hoover and me food processor.’ Ma suggests she needs a win on the lotto. ‘Ah,’ says the assistant. ‘I’ve thought about that. I’ll buy meself a nice place somewhere out of Ireland, maybe France. Then I’ll book meself a Caribbean cruise and get a **** *** *** (eyewatering detail of the stud at the top of her wishlist deleted to spare everyone’s blushes) for meself. Then I’ll decide what to do after.’

Ma’s eyes have gone wide; she has finally met someone naughtier than herself a fact confirmed as the assistant delivers her opinion on the medical profession, ‘the feckers’, the perils of pills, ‘even if they say they’re only for constipation, make sure you ask about the side effects.’ And the folly of leaving money to your children, ‘sure, you’re the greatest mother in the world for three days and then they won’t even visit your grave!’

Ma walks away with a new hairy jumper and stunned expression of respect.

We retire to Murphys for hot chocolate and a lovely chat with the nice young man in there who got dragged to Ireland when his parents fell in love with the place nine years ago. The coffee machine’s taking time to warm up so he gives us free ice creams whilst we watch the rain and wait. Drive round the Slea Peninsula when the rain clears – utterly stunning views – and walk up to the beehive huts, the Neolithic stone dwellings. Home to drink Guinness and watch Ireland lose to S. Africa. Heavy rain and wind.

Sunday onwards
Dingle puts on a fine display for the last few days of the holiday and we meet and chat to enough people to fill a book. There are bright mornings, walks and breathtaking scenery; it’s been utterly wonderful. On the last day there’s a final treat. We’re half-planning another trip to Miss Courtney’s Tearooms, but when we arrive they’re giving themselves a makeover so that they’re even more beautiful. We don’t mind too much because we’ve spotted a newly-opened retro-style burger bar which is gleamingly-clean, the service is fantastic and the food is fresh, good and made with care. You can see it was a success...

Coming next and in conclusion: standing above the most westerly beach in Europe watching the wildest waves I've ever seen.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Waterstone's Carmarthen: Round Two!

‘And you’ve got Matthew Rhys in today too, haven’t you?’ I observe. ‘Er. No,’ says Lovely Tim, ‘that was a mistake on the website. But we do have a lady from The Coal House.’ Introduce myself to Lady From The Coal House who asks me how long I’ve worked in Waterstone’s. Wander back to my table and get asked (1) where the dictionaries are (2) if I would like to buy a CD (3) did I really write my book?

Despite stiff competition from Sleb biogs which seem to be high on customer Christmas lists, I do manage to sell some copies of Turning the Tide. In addition I meet some lovely people and one very cute dog (looking for a copy of ‘Scents and Sensibility’, no doubt. Or ‘The House at Poo Corner'.)

Thanks very much to the staff at Waterstone’s and everyone who stopped to chat.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ireland Snapshots: A Spot of Tea (but no Craic)

The view from the Connor Pass was worth waiting for!

Thursday 4 November
Heavy rain thickens the mist so we drive to Tralee, but find no roses just an everyday working town. Just to add a little extra excitement we decide to take the Connor Pass home. Several large signs in different languages advise lorry drivers to turn back NOW! The high, narrow mountain pass links Dingle Town in the south to Kilcummin on the North coast and as we climb it feels as if someone has definitely taken the road in. There are steep rocky slopes one side, sheer drops on the other and the visibility is almost nil due to dense low cloud. Ma enjoys it.

In the evening Tom and I go for a walk along the breakwater. It’s still raining but the mist has cleared and the sea is a beautiful turquoise grey.

Out and about in Dingle

Friday 5 November
Great excitement! Although it’s still raining, we can actually see The Three Sisters range opposite the house! We head for Killarney, this time driving along the corniche. The scenery is ravishing with achingly fabulous colour combinations of vivid russet bracken against dove grey sea and accents of white crests.

The town centre at Killarney is fab with a vibrant atmosphere and lots to see, but our very best decision is going for tea at Miss Courteny’s Tea Rooms – an absolute delight. Loose leaf Earl Grey ‘ Blue Flower’ tea in a vintage tea pot, a silver tea strainer and delicate china cups and saucers. Lemon drizzle cake to accompany. Utterly sublime.

Things you never knew you wanted

In the evening we set out to find the ‘craic’. Alas, the craic is playing very hard to get. In a pub famed for its hospitality and billed as‘a superb place to eat, be entertained and stay, we are greeted by an unfriendly waitress who informs me when I order mussels, that they are only available as a starter. Look round empty pub in astonishment – surely they can double up? No. Order smoked haddock which arrives steamed to the point of exhaustion. Table cleared the moment we lay down our cutlery. Music not due to start until 9.30 but the pub is deserted and utterly miserable so we leave.

Little do we know that we are about to find the craic in the most unexpected place...

On the beach

On a different note
Those lovely people at Waterstone's Carmarthen have invited me back for a second signing tomorrow, Saturday 20 November, from 12-3pm so do please say hello if you're passing. Matthew Rhys fans will pleased to know that he'll be there too, from 1-2pm.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Ireland Snapshots: Fishguard to Dingle

Tuesday 2 November
It’s a little before 2.45 am when the ferry sets off from Fishguard on a cold, gusty night with the winds set to touch gale force 8. With Ma sandwiched between Tom and me as we climb up from the car decks, I watch her gamely tackle the steep stairs. Her fragile back is even more delicate these days, but she never falters, never holds anyone up and never complains. And whilst I’m fretting to myself about the after-effects of such a long journey for her, Ma’s as excited as a six-year-old. Despite the terrible forecast, I’m surprised that I barely notice the motion of the ferry, or maybe I’ve been hardened by years of being thrown around in a small boat. The crossing is uneventful and we spill out into a wet, Irish dawn and take breakfast in the coldest cafe in the world. Ma laughs when I invite her to sit by the radiator which, we find is turned off. Then it’s a race to eat our full Irish breakfast as it chills on freezing cold plates.

view from the holiday home

It takes the best part of six hours to reach the Dingle Peninsula which juts out thirty miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Through the drizzle we watch the scenery becoming increasingly dramatic as we head westwards, although we can’t help but notice the ghost estates of brand new, pastel-coloured houses – nearly all of them uninhabited – creeping across the country. We find our holiday bungalow hidden up a very unlikely looking track. So unlikely we try someone’s family home first. We retrace our steps along the track towards what looks like a gravel pit – and there it is; huge, modern and very comfortable. Fall into enormous comfy beds and sleep like logs.

Murphys, an early favourite

Wednesday 3 November.
Our holiday home at Baile na nGall has the most spectacular view across to the trio of peaks known as The Three Sisters, although it’s quite hard to see any of them through the mist. So we go to An Daingean, Dingle, a pretty town and fishing port with hilly streets and brightly-painted houses. Ma spends so much money in the first two shops that I fear her bank will think a mad woman is running amok with her debit card in the far west. She is. Within minutes, Tom is the proud owner of new hairy jumper, and my sister and brother-in-law have crystal glass jug, hand cut by master craftsman Se├ín Daly (who, incidentally, along with his wife Liz, is completely and utterly charming). Then it’s time for proper coffee and ice cream in Murphys.

Ventry Bay on clear day

The mist lifts for one tantalising moment. Encouraged by a glimpse of The Three Sisters, we dash out for a drive round Slea Head to explore, but chase the mist all the way. Never mind, it’s been a great first day, enjoyed by all. Perhaps the mist will lift tomorrow?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Back Home

Look at this view! I was standing on the hill just above this little bay watching thirty foot waves smash against the cliffs. Ireland was so beautiful - more to report in due course, but today I'm over at Choc Lit's Author Corner writing about how to get those writing ideas flowing.

Monday, 1 November 2010

West to Far West

We're taking Ma for a much-needed break. None of us have visited the far west of Ireland before, but here's the current forecast for tonight's crossing...

'Lundy Fastnet Irish Sea:
South or southwest veering west or southwest 5 to 7, occasionally 4 at first, increasing gale 8 at times in Irish Sea. Moderate or rough, occasionally very rough in Fastnet. Rain or showers. Good, occasionally poor.'


Painting is 'November Sea' by Tom Tomos